It’s not Part 2, but “Evil Dead The Musical” squared.
The cult musical based on a cult movie is the only show in town that bombards its audience with stage blood, F-bombs, middle fingers and bad puns. And now it’s the only one staged in two places: upstairs and downstairs venues inside The V Theater at the Miracle Mile Shops in Planet Hollywood Resort.
Yes, it’s just one location for you, the ticket buyer. Still, producer-director Sirc Michaels saw a new theater space inside the complex run by David Saxe as not only a way to expand his schedule beyond Friday and Saturday nights, but as an ambitious chance to create different versions of the show. Which, of course, means that those who simply can’t get enough “Dead” would have to see both.
And there could be a few. This crude, campy tribute to Sam Raimi’s three “Dead” movies (the slapstick “Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn” in particular) does generate repeat business. The rubber masks and spoofy show tunes create an odd sense of community, striking a common bond between fans of the movies and those lured in by the “The Rocky Horror Show”-style musical burlesque.
It’s the now-familiar tale of a quintet of young adults finding a cabin in the woods and a book of spells called the Necronomicon. It turns them one by one into demons, until only our hero Ash (famously played by Bruce Campbell in the movies) is left to dispatch them, and even he seems a bit “touched” in the process.
This being a musical (sung to recorded backing tracks), you not only get the famous movie quotes — “This is my boom stick!” — and quips such as “Don’t make me ax you again!,” but earnestly emoted vocals such as “I’m an S Mart employee, to kill a co-worker is against company policy.”
The more-settled weekend version, downstairs in the larger theater, plays up the communal charm that allows this low-budget, often amateurish effort to sit amid the slick, expensive shows on the Strip. Most of the audience can see not only the actors, but also what happens to the select few who pay extra to get doused with the red stuff in a “splatter zone” right up front.
The upstairs venue, built to house Saxe’s “Zombie Burlesque,” is a narrow, tunnel-vision room with, no kidding, church pews to seat the acolytes up front. But this slightly tighter “weeknight version” is the less ritualized; a traditional stage is supposed to make it more about the actors and a more disciplined performance, adding some props and video effects the other room doesn’t have.
That’s the idea, anyway.
Watching both versions on successive nights reveals that so far, the smaller theater just seems more cramped and compromised. Yes, there’s an extra visual gag involving some horny demonic trees, and a cool video-assisted transport back to our hero’s real-world S Mart, which is achieved downstairs by simply hanging up a fabric drape.
But a couple of key pieces of business — the Grand Guignol chopping and chain-sawing that give the silliness some real shock value — don’t read as well as they do on the comparably roomy set downstairs.
And that tighter focus on the stage instead of the audience? Could have just been a sleepy crowd on this night, but they didn’t really come alive until the unscripted intermission, which brings some interactive hijinks from an emcee (Michaels himself on this night) who drops enough F-bombs to make “The Wolf of Wall Street” seem like the airline version.
Putting the two shows side by side mostly reminds us it’s the actors who make the difference. Ash is the one role that has to be right on, and Chris Wiedman nailed it both nights with both a convincing physical presence and a smug charm that channels Campbell without slavishly imitating him.
But several actors divide up the schedule, and some are better at this stuff than others. The actor who goes by Big Sexy was particularly instructive on how to make Ash’s buddy Scott a likable jerk, not just an annoying one. Kirsten Hiebert better handled the transformation of Ash’s sister from uptight goody-two-shoes to a demonic insult comic who keeps popping out of the cellar to taunt him.
Director Michaels is more interested in the ritual bonding and splatter effects than he is in the book and lyrics by George Reinblatt, and he doesn’t rein in the full-tilt mugging even when some of his actors are numbingly shrill. Some think every joke is better when it’s shouted, or delivered with an approval-seeking nod to the audience.
But hey, bad taste comes in all flavors. So I’ll wait to see if the upstairs version does become the more nuanced, controlled one that would appeal to those of us who attend live theater as well as movies. Upstairs or downstairs though, bad taste only comes in one color. As our emcee tells us, “You can never have too much blood.”
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0288.